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Health assessment identifies problem areas

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Drug and alcohol use among young people and poor eating and exercise habits are the greatest health issues in central Illinois, according to the first-ever Tri-County Community Health-Needs Assessment released on Monday.

The year-long assessment, done in a collaborative effort by leaders from UnityPoint Health Methodist-Proctor, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria and other organizations, will be used in planning health care strategies in the Tri-County region. The assessment was done on patient data and surveys collected in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties.

"This was a joint effort to understand at a deeper level the issues that Peoria-area residents face every day," said Debbie Simon, president and CEO of UnityPoint Health Methodist-Proctor. "Thanks to the collaboration, we have an unprecedented picture of the health care needs in our community, and patients will see the benefits of more personalized care."

According to the study, the eight most critical health-related issues in the Tri-County region are:

Asthma: Inpatient admissions to the Peoria-area hospitals for asthma increased a staggering 26.7 percent.

Diabetes: Type I and Type II Diabetes diagnoses are increasing, with 10 percent of Tri-County residents now affected by the disease. That figure exceeds state averages.

Lung Cancer: Lung cancer cases have steadily increased in the Tri-County region over the past 23 years. During the study period, cases of lung cancer in patients ages 65 and older, in particular, increased significantly.

Mental Health: Approximately 25 percent of local residents reported they had experienced one to seven days with poor mental health per month between 2007 and 2009. That is greater than the state average for the same time frame.

Obesity: The Tri-County is home to a higher percentage of obese individuals than the state as a whole. It is important to note that Illinois is the sixth-worst state in the entire country when it comes to obesity.

Prevalence of Risky Behaviors: Kids in the Tri-County region are increasingly using alcohol, tobacco and marijuana at earlier ages, and more area teenagers are using the substances than elsewhere in the state. For example, in Peoria County, 33 percent of 12th graders are using marijuana, compared with 21 percent statewide.

Lack of Healthy Behaviors: Only 15 percent of area residents exercise at least five times a week. Less than 5 percent consume the minimum recommended servings of fruits and vegetables in a day.

Access to Healthcare for the Poor: Only half of local residents living in deep poverty are seeking medical services at a clinic or doctor's office. Instead, they commonly seek medical services from an emergency department.

The hospitals will use the results for strategic decision-making. Each will individually implement new programs, improve accessibility to existing care and concentrate resources where they are needed most to better serve patients.

"We are all well aware of national and state health trends and the changing health care climate with its shrinking resources. This assessment helps us understand where we should focus our resources moving forward. In the end, this is about providing the kind of patient-centered care our community truly needs," said Keith Steffen, president and CEO, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center. "This is a great tool for guiding the future of health care in the Tri-County region."

Dr. Laurence G. Weinzimmer of Bradley University and Michelle Carrothers of OSF HealthCare led the assessment. The assessment team included two representatives from each of the Peoria hospitals, administrators from the three county health departments, physicians and administrators from clinics serving local at-risk populations, representatives from the University of Illinois College of Medicine and the Heart of Illinois United Way.

A new study will be conducted every three years.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).